Horse racing in
Ireland goes back to the earliest times. The Red Branch Knights
raced among themselves as did the Fianna warriors in the 3rd century
AD. Racing was not confined to the ruling class, at fairs and assemblies
racing was a common entertainment.
After Cromwell's invasion of Ireland he banned
Sunday racing, after which the sport almost died out.
The term Steeplechase came into use in County
Cork in 1752 when a local horseman Edward Blake challenged a neighbour
Mr O'Callaghan to race him from Buttervant to St Ledger church in
Doneraile some four miles distant, by keeping the St Ledger steeple
in sight both riders could reach the destination by the shortest
In 1790 the Turf Club was set up to supervise
Irish racing, some 40 years after the Jockey Club in England. 1837
saw the running of the first Irish Grand National, the Irish Derby
was first run in 1866 at the Curragh County Kildare. Henry Eyre
Linde won the English Grand National with his mare Empress in in
1880. About 20 years later 'Boss' Croker's Orby became the first
Irish trained horse to win the Epsom Derby.
The Irish National Stud came into existence
in 1945, its aims to improve the quality of Irish bloodstock by
providing quality stallions at a reasonable cost. Its founder was
a firm believer in astrology and had skylights fitted to the stables,
so that the moon, planets and stars could exert their influence
on the horses. Today the stud has an excellent museum chronicling
the Irish horse, among its exhibits is the skeleton of Arkle an
Irish horse which won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times in a row
in the 1960's and out of 35 starts won 27 races, perhaps the secret
of his success was that he is reputed to have been given a bottle
of Guinness a day.
Successful racehorses are valuable animals,
one such was Shergar owned by XXXXXXX and stabled in Kildare, Shergar
was stolen and subsequently ransomed, the horse was not returned
nor were his remains ever found, the Provisional IRA were widely
blamed, although nothing was proven.
The are around 280 race meetings held each
year, including the Irish Derby held on the last Sunday in June
or the first Sunday of July and the Irish Grand National held on
Easter Monday at Fairyhouse. Large amounts of money pass through
the hands of the bookies at race meetings.
One race that is unique to Ireland is held
on the beach at Laytown Co Meath, usually in July or August, the
tide dictating the date. Racing have been held there since 1876,
and is the only race in Europe held on a beach, the races are 6
furlongs (about 2 miles)